Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Moving Away From Melta Everywhere

by SandWyrm

This is something that I just posted to The M42 Project, but which I thought would be of interest over here on TB40K as well. One of our readers asked how, with melta so required now to counter tanks, that we might diversify the various factions more. My answer is to change the basic mechanics of the game so that melta is beneficial, but not required.

 How To De-Value Melta Through Game Mechanics

Jon asked a good question about melta-reliance in the comments to my last post that I think deserves a proper answer.

Jon wrote:
"...what are your broad brush thoughts on how to differentiate between armies (factions) and maintain balance at the same time? i.e. 40k has a problem when transports and melta are essential and not all armies have either or both transports or melta; and you can't just hand it out to every army or then what would the differences be?"
That's a very good question about something that's plagued 40K for some time now.

GW has, through the basic mechanics of their game, forced this reliance on melta. Because there are no to-hit modifiers in 40K, you can't have good long range anti-tank guns; because if you do you'll rape everything at range without having to move. The other mechanics of 40K don't help either.

To show what I mean, I'll use an example from Flames of War. Let's say you have one of the best tanks of the mid-war period, a 385 point Tiger 1E (way better than a Land Raider), versus a bazooka-less platoon of American Riflemen (48 men on 10 bases for 130 points).

At first the Tiger looks unbeatable. Nothing in the squad can hurt it either at range or in assault. But the mechanics of the game don't make it easy for the big cat.

Issue 1: Dug-In Infantry Is Very Hard To Kill

So in our example, the Tiger has to hold on to it's objective while also taking an objective away from the enemy (All scenarios in Flames are objective based). Which means that it has to kill or run off the enemy infantry. It can shoot it's big main gun (2 shots) all it wants. But trained infantry in cover at long range are only hit on a 6+. Assuming the Tiger hits somebody, they get a 3+ infantry save. If they fail that save, then the Tiger still needs to make a 3+ firepower roll to kill an infantry base that has dug in. Those aren't great odds!

If the Tiger moves up to use it's machine guns, things don't get much better. It gets 6 more dice standing still, but at short range he'll still need a 5+ to hit. Then the 3+ Infantry save, then a 6+ firepower roll. Running an infantry platoon into tanks is suicide, because they're easier to hit and any failed save  = dead. But in a defensive position, they laugh at the big cats.

Issue 2: Area Terrain Limits Line Of Sight

Unlike 40K, where you can see right through woods, Flames has a mechanic where you have to be within 6" of an enemy model to see it if that model is entirely within or behind a piece of area terrain. So it's possible to be entirely hidden from the big cat's 88.

Issue 3: The Tiger Can't Be Everywhere

Killing dug in infantry requires the Tiger to get up close and assault. But if he moves up then there is nothing to stop a platoon of 4-5 Stuart light tanks from zooming right past him to take his objective (and the game). So he's in a bind. He needs to spend several turns sniping enemy tanks and guns before he can move up to assault the infantry.

Issue 4: Smoke

Even if the enemy can't hurt the Tiger, they can still frustrate him. One way is with smoke rounds from Artillery or direct-fire guns. These will limit his LOS and give big penalties to hit. So the Tiger is forced to always move. Cutting his Rate of Fire in half. That makes him much less scary.

Issue 5: Defensive Fire

Assuming the Tiger can close in to assault, he still has to worry about what else is alive around the enemy platoon. Because any enemy models within a certain distance of the point at which he assaults can also fire at him. Are there some Tank Destroyers hiding behind those trees within 8"? Well then, better hope you make those armor saves buddy!

Issue 6: Infantry Can Still Push Him Back In Assault

So let's say the Tiger actually gets into assault with the enemy platoon. They can't hope to hurt him, but the mechanics of the game don't make this an auto-win. For one thing, he only gets one attack. Which seriously limits the damage he can do.

If he wins a round of combat against the infantry, they'll have to make a leadership check. If they fail, they fall back 6". Any enemy left within 4" of the Tiger are killed automatically. He can then consolidate and push the infantry back another 2". But the rest of the platoon is still there and contesting the objective if any of the models are within 3".  If not, they can always move in closer on their turn.

If the enemy infantry pass their check, then they'll get to hit back. If they hit even once (regardless of damage), then the Tiger will have to make a LD check, which he'll fail half of the time. Then, even though he is fine, he'll be forced to fall back.

So... How Do We Differentiate Forces?

So, in general, stuff should be harder to hit at range/speed. The long range guns also need to get more effective. But what else?

Well, let's say we're talking about Eldar. They're an army of specialists in a game that requires generalists. But what if that unit of Fire Dragons could lend supporting anti-tank fire to the 2 squads of Guardians in front of it as they're assaulted by a tank (or armored infantry)? Suddenly that little unit is more useful. Add in some tech that makes them a bit harder to hit and suddenly they'd really rock!

Or let's say that we're talking about Orks. They could have Boom Guns advancing behind their mobs that could help out the Boyz with popping heavy vehicles. Maybe the Orks don't get defensive, but rather OFFENSIVE fire, where the boom guns can shoot at whatever the mobs around it is assaulting. That would change the dynamic, wouldn't it?


  1. I've been partial to the Epic: Armageddon differentiation between long-ranged shooting and close-ranged engagements involving both firefights and close-combat. Any formation with units within the 15cm firefight range can contribute, meaning that small units of Space Marines can co-operate to mangle large mobs of Orks and companies of Imperial Guard.

    Warhammer-wise, though, I think the issue with Melta Guns can be *fixed* by allowing Shaken and Stunned results to convert to damage (Weapon Destroyed, Immobilized) results just like damage results convert to Destroyed results.

    Basically the notion is that attrition is an important part of the Warhammer game, and having 'dead-end' results like infinite Shaken/Stunned is the reason why damage result converstion was implemented in 5th edition, to avoid vehicles soaking up infinite Weapon Destroyed results and the like.

  2. Off the top of my head, the "problem" with vehicles in 40k is that vehicles keep changing, while, for the most part, everything else stays the same.

    In every edition of "current" 40k (that is, 3rd ed and forward), the vehicle system has been changed. Oh, the mechanic is the same... they can fire based on how far they moved, there are glancing/pen hits, yadda yadda... but look at what *has* changed...

    There was a time when every damage result *also* counted as a crew stunned. This alone meant that suppression fire (something, for example, Tyranids are very fine at) was a very viable tactic. With this extra taken away, vehicles became more reliable (go sales!), but Tyranids as an army suddenly lost their main way of dealing with armor. Awww yeeaah.

    Moving from 2 damage tables to 1 combined table, with modifiers. In truth this one is more or less the same, since the modifiers come very close to enacting the same chances of the same results... but there are slight differences.

    Pillbox vs Mobile Stronghold
    What a vehicle can fire on the move has likewise changed every edition... while this doesn't directly affect a vehicle's survivability (and as such the need for 'hard' anti-tank fire) it does drastically change the way vehicles play. Tank Shock, while a very fluffy and in theory fun rule, basically means if I can't keep *every* tank on the board immobilized (which is much, much harder to do now) I can't claim objectives. Because you can always, nearly without repercussion, blow me off of mine.

    Things to keep in mind, though... Forests and other area terrain used to block LOS in 40k. Outnumbering a vehicle in assault used to cause glancing hits, simply because of the amount of bodies. A stealthy unit gone to ground is pretty friggen hard to kill too. A lot of what you're saying has been true of 40k in the past, but that hasn't stopped people from complaining about it then, either... the glass is always half empty to someone, it seems.

    1. Yes, people always complain. But maybe there really is a problem here. Maybe melta is such a big deal because the system itself incentivizes putting meltas in a Chimera and running them forward rather than shooting from afar.

      Because there's no to-hit modifiers in 40K, you can't balance long range fire properly with terrain that's anything less than full LOS blocking (like NOVA). So every long range gun gets nerfed because otherwise everyone would just sit and shoot all day long.

      Look at a Leman Russ. It's supposedly the backbone of the Imperium, but put 2 standard Russes nose-to-nose and they'll spend all day shooting at each other to no effect. Because the best their main gun can do is glance their own front armor. Put a lascannon on the front and it gets slightly better. But that's still just a single shot with about a 3% chance to actually kill AV14. I find that crazy.

    2. That's an absolutely brilliant point about the Leman Russ, Sandwyrm.

      But then, This is indicative of GW's sluggish and haphazard development. They still try to cling on to the established fluff that by-and-large we all love (much of it from 2nd Ed or earlier) but in no way does it equate to what's seen on the table any more.

      And I'm not just talking about WAAC or beardy play either: for many armies a combination of the codex and the core rules makes it almost disadvantageous to take a force that'd be recognisable to a 2nd Ed player, whence - for example - so much of the conceptual fluff originated (or was developed).

      Other areas where the models and 'new toys' have screwed or been screwed by the core mechanic are flyers and the sheer amount of models on the table - Ron over at From the Warp touched on this this week...

    3. I'm not saying there's not a problem - I think Tanks (not necessarily vehicles, but most Tanks) are a tad overpowered. Not a stupid amount, but when pretty much *every* competitive player goes for mech out of the gate, it says something.

      It's like when Rending got put on the Assault Cannon. It was THE BEST WEAPON IN THE GAME. How many AC's did you see in marine armies? All of them that you could fit.

      Again on terrain - this is brand new to this edition. And I don't like it, personally. And Melta's in a Chimera is a *terrible* example of Melta, because it's basically the cheesiest (sorry to say Sandy) version thereof.

      "oh, let me take one of the cheapest transports in the game, give it the best front AV that a non-land raider transport has, give it FIVE access points, and a SCORING 5-man, 5-melta, BS4 squad." For... what... 150 points? Maybe?? I also hate what happened to the Chimera (going from 0 access but built in lasguns that admittedly didn't work well, to a stupidly abuse-bait build).

      To be frank, I see more missiles around than Melta, and it *is* because of the range that you keep saying doesn't work. Mass melta *only* works when you have a delivery mechanism that works exceedingly well. Drop pods for Marines, holding either melta-dreds or a squad with a couple of guns (or more) inside. Mass (and I mean mass) cheap transports and equally cheap units that carry almost more guns than dudes - hard to slow down, cheap enough to be completely expendable, and incredibly offensively powerful. Oh, and scoring. Did I mention scoring?

      I also think the Russ vs Russ example is off. Is this tank the backbone because it has a Deathstar equivalent laser attached, or because, as you said, you can take extremely powerful weapons, shoot it all day long, and have little effect? The tank itself is still primarily an anti-infantry weapon - and it's FECKING AMAZING at it. Well, maybe not that much, but who scoffs at a S8 ap3 large blast? You want anti-armor, take a Vendetta - that's what it specializes at. You may as well say DE suck against all mech because most of their weapons are poison and those can't touch vehicles... not my fault you're prescribing the wrong tool for the job.

      Terrain is also a major issue with vehicles. Since so many people play heavy mech, most people want lots of open lanes and easy access to the full board. This should simply not be the case. If any given tank can go anywhere with little to no fear of hazard, what's the point of being a Skimmer? Especially now that tanks can even push units out of the way, all anti-grav tech means is lighter armor. When's the last time something was classified as impassable to vehicles in a game you played? I think, personally, it was a mistake to limit Dangerous Terrain tests to 1 per phase for vehicles... I think it should be 1 per terrain piece (makes more sense in my mind, but again just personal opinion). But troops should never be able to spend all day in their mobile bunkers, safely shooting willy nilly. They should have to get out at some point and move around... but 90% of the time you never *have* to do this in a game. This in and of itself is a problem, and makes transports in particular far more powerful than they should be... and it's our fault, not the system's.

    4. I can sympathize with Ron, my IG required a double-wide GW case and another standard size case, plus a backpack. And that was only with 2 Vendettas.

    5. Foodie, I don't see how it's the players' fault. It's the fault of the people who made the system. With a full understanding that those undercosted options would be used and sell models.

  3. Might I suggest the approach of re-writing the Melta rule in a fashion that still had worth to melta but not to the point of it being the only true (go to tank gun).

    Melta rule: A weapon with the Melta rule gets to re-roll it's weapon damage chart result when determining the effect it does to a vehicle. (the second result must stand). Still Str 8 and still Ap 1.

    Now we have a gun when we hit you get two chances to get a result you really want. Hate getting a shaken or stun when you hit with a melta gun. Re-roll it. Now the Melta and Lascannon are semi on pare with their own advantage. One (las) has longer range and +1 str to the other, the other (melta) gets a chance to reroll the result.

    Have Ceramite Shielding. Your opponent loses it's re-roll potential. Have a landraider of 250+pts. Hey look at that it might survive longer then one turn, by not getting blown up by a 25pt melta toting marine.

    1. I'm done with the idea of 'tweaking' 40K. It's re-write time.

    2. Agreed, Sandy.
      Very, very much agreed.

  4. The percentages used in the above "arguments" are a horrible example. Especially if you're comparing FOW to 40k. Yeah try killing infantry that are vets, concealed, dug in, and gone to ground. Do the math on that. Realize that the math of 40k is much better for gaming than FOW, then maybe you couldn't complain about rewriting the rules for a much more "balanced" game.

    Machine guns for example in FOW shooting at the above mentioned. Hit on a 6=16%. They save on a 3+=33% to fail a save. So already it takes 18 shots to get 1 unsaved wound. Now you have to make a firepower test which is also a 6+ (dug in). That would be 108 shots on average to kill 1 yes 1 infantry stand. < 1%. But you're ok with that math.

    Apples to oramges. They are both good games in their own right and yes there are things about both systems that are fubared, but neither one will get better by using mechanics from one another to "fix" them.

    1. I know that you're frustrated with killing infantry in Flames Scotty, but let's first compare apples to apples:

      A Tiger 1E shooting at another Tiger 1E right in front of it would need a 4 to hit, then the target Tiger would get a 4+ save. Finally you would need a 3+ firepower roll to kill it.

      So 1/2 * 1/2 * 2/3 = 2/12 = 1/6 = 17%

      But Tigers have 2 shots with their main gun, so it's actually a bit less than a 34% chance. That's a far cry from the 3% that a lascannon equipped Russ would need to kill another Russ. Getting that pencentage down requires being further away and concealed in a treeline. You know, tactics.

      As for killing dug-in veteran infantry, yeah it's hard by design. I was shaking my head after my first couple of games too. But then you learn to overcome it by coordinating the actions of several units.

      First up, take a recon unit and remove the vets' gone-to-ground. Now you need a 5+ instead of a 6+ to hit them. That's twice as many hits as before.

      Then you can range in with artillery and pin them.

      Then you can smoke them.

      Now that they're properly prepared, you can assault their position with some tanks and kill them or at least push them back.

      Or you can just take Flampanzers or flamethrower equipped troops and do it the easy way. Or, since they're a small unit of veterans, you can just drive around them. Or you can kill all their friends and make them bug out. Anyhow, you have more options than you might think. Remember too, that there's no turn limit in Flames. As long as you've dealt with the other immediate threats you can spend multiple turns shooting up a dug-in platoon. Coming from 40K you can get caught up in the perceived need to wrap things up by turn 5, but that's not the case at all.

      Which is not to say that I want to re-make 40K in Flames' image. It's not a perfect system. But Flames does offer some refreshing ideas for solving many of 40K's problems.

  5. Great read. While I can say having a few outlets of Melta in places is often a good choice, there's plenty of other things out there. Just gotta be willing to look for them. I myself utilize a large number of attacks with my Templar, or a large number of * dramatic pause for effect* plasma guns in my IG army.

    In the end... there's almost always other options... just gotta be willing to look at them and give them a shot.


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